Located in the Japanese Alps, Takayama is a small town popular with tourists particularly in the snow season. I recently spent two days in Takayama – not in winter, in the midst of summer – and I believe it should be included in all Japan itineraries no matter the season.
Being summer, the town was fairly quiet which was a refreshing change from the hustle and bustle of Tokyo. However, there was enough people around to ensure great atmosphere.
The town itself exudes old Japan, with store fronts and eateries set in another time.
Two days in Takayama is ample time to see the highlights of this wondrous little town and here are my recommendations on what to do.
What to do
Higashiyama Walking Course
Higashiyama walking course runs through temples, forest and castle ruins. It is a serene walk which provides great views of Takayama.
There are many temples along the track which visitors are welcome to explore and unlike most temples in Japan there are very few people which really adds a greater spiritual element to them.
The entire course is about 5.5km but you can choose to only walk portions of the track.
Takayama Morning Market
Located on the river bank, the morning market sells a variety of foods, souvenirs and handmade goods. A stroll through the markets is a perfect way to start the morning.
The Hida Folk Village is a ten-minute bus ride from Takayama Station. It is an open air museum which has preserved old houses from the Hida region. An interesting look into a time gone by.
Stroll the streets of old town
This is what you will be spending most of your time doing. The old town is so amazingly beautiful and there are many shops and a lot of street food to be devoured. I had a hida beef bun which was amazing as it sounds and the ice cream – wow – there are many options and the chocolate vanilla combo I ate was as delicious as it looks.
In the middle of old town you will find a place called Harada Sake Brewery which allows you to taste twelve different types of sake for just 200 yen! Better yet, they allow you to keep the sake glass.
Where to eat
The number one place to eat according to tripadvisor in Takayama and for good reason. Sakurajaya is located on the outskirts of town and although there is a bit of a trek to reach the restaurant it is so completely and utterly worth it. The food is of the highest quality and cooked to perfection at the most reasonable price.
I dined on fried corn, tofu, chicken tenders and Hida beef. The beef was to die for – rivaling, if not, beating the famous Kobe beef.
If you sit at the bar you can watch the owner/ chef cooking your meal and have a delightful chat – the service is exceptional.
Coffee Don is around sixty-five years old and it serves all sorts of drinks and basic sandwiches.
The simple breakfast – thick sliced white toast with a boiled egg, coffee/tea and a orange juice is cooked just right and is so satisfying.
This place is great fun! Akira, who serves and cooks the gyoza’s provides entertainment for all customers.
It is a very small place that only sits about eight people – mostly tourists. It almost becomes like a family affair as you are bound to chat with your fellow diners making it a truly memorable experience.
If you go there, Akira will ask you to draw and picture to add to the wall so make sure you have your artistic skills ready to go.
Where to stay
As I was only in the town for two nights, I only stayed at one place, but the Ryokan Tanabe was fantastic.
Takayama, with its old Japan feel, is the perfect place to stay in a ryokan (a traditional Japanese guesthouse). The Ryokan Tanabe is three-floors of traditional guest houses, where you sleep and eat on the floor. There is also a public bath on the bottom floor.
We chose to not have the meals they provide, but I heard they are absolutely amazing with ten courses of all sorts of food.
The service was great with everybody willing to lend a helping hand!
Other Ryokans in Takayama
How to get to Takayama
It takes about four hours to get to Takayama from Tokyo and whilst this may seem long by Japanese standards you will be greeted with breathtaking scenery.
From Tokyo (or Osaka/ Kyoto), catch the shinkansen to Nagoya and then catch the JR Hida limited express train to Takayama. Make sure you plan accordingly as the limited express train only leaves a few times per day.
If you have a JR rail pass (which I highly recommend) your train ride to Takayama will be covered.
Have you been to Japan? If so, did you go to Takayama or any other smaller places?